Ghana came from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Australia, but after playing against ten men for over an hour they will view the result as a missed opportunity; how big an opportunity remains to be seen.
Ghana entered the game without both of their first choice central defensive pair. Isaac Vorsah and captain John Mensah, so influential in their 1-0 victory over Serbia, had succumbed to injuries suffered in the days leading up to the game. In their place were Jonathan Mensah and Lee Addy, both 19 years old and severely lacking in international experience.
Their inexperience showed early on, as Addy lost the ball to Kewell and got his legs all tangled up with the Australian as they entered the box, but the referee waved away penalty claims to the relief of every Ghanaian inside the Royal Bafokeng stadium.
Australia may have been frustrated by the refusal of their penalty claims, but they dominated the opening exchanges and soon had a goal to show for their efforts.
A thirty yard free-kick was fired in towards goal, and Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson made a complete hash of dealing with the shot as it bounced just in front of him. The ball bounced off the ‘keepers midriff and straight into the path of the approaching Brett Holman. The Australian midfielder, drafted in to replace the suspended Tim Cahill, pounced on the rebound and made no mistake in firing home.
Australia looked the more likely team to score again, until the game took a dramatic turn in the 24th minute in controversial circumstances. A Ghanaian corner from the right was cleared as far as corner taker Andre Ayew, who somehow managed to evade Australian challenges and fight his way into the box where he pulled the ball back across goal from the touchline. The ball found Jonathan Mensah all on his own and his sidefooted shot was cleared by Kewell on the Australian line, although it appeared he may have used his arm in doing so. Referee Roberto Rosetti had no hesitation in awarding the penalty and dismissing the obviously furious Kewell, who was adamant he had not handled and pleaded with Rosetti to check the big screen replays.
Australia’s Harry Kewell saw red in the first half
Had the referee seen those replays, he would have been satisfied to see that his decision was absolutely correct, as while some of the ball may have hit Kewell’s chest, it also caught his arm and a penalty and the inevitable dismissal that would accompany it were both fair.
After a lengthy delay as a distraught Kewell was escorted from the field, Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan stepped up to face Mark Schwarzer from 12 yards. Gyan, who scored Ghana’s winner with a penalty in their first game, dispatched this spot-kick with similar aplomb to put Ghana on level terms.
Ghana celebrate Gyan’s equaliser in style
A minute later and Ghana were nearly ahead, but Prince Tagoe fired wide at the near post after as the Australian defence closed in on him. Not only was the shot poor, but Tagoe had Asamoah Gyan in acres of space alongside him and should have passed to his teammate.
Just before the break Kevin-Prince Boateng broke down Ghana’s right, and after ignoring his options to pass, fired a shot hard and low towards Schwarzer’s far post, but the Australian ‘keeper made a fine save on the stretch. That was the last significant incident of the first half as the teams went in on level terms.
Australia operated a highly defensive system in the second half, often pulling all ten men back behind the ball as Ghana launched attack after attack.
Ghana’s first chance of note after the break came when Gyan received the ball after a clever touch from Kwadwo Asamoah and carried the ball to the left hand edge of the box before firing a curling shot which forced Schwarzer into another smart stop.
By the hour mark, a clearly exhausted Australia seemed to be flagging and rarely broke into Ghana’s half. Yet rather than use their extra man to work the ball into goal scoring opportunities, Ghana seemed content to fire wildly ambitious shots that didn’t come close to troubling Australia’s goal.
They were nearly made to pay for their slackness, as Australia made a couple of substitutions that changed the game. Immediately after the changes, a superb right wing cross from Brett Emerton was met by Scott Chipperfield, only on the pitch for a matter of seconds, and the Australian headed narrowly over when he should have hit the target.
At this point, the game really sprung into life, as only a minute later Ghana had their best chance of the half, with Gyan beating his marker before lashing a powerful shot across the face of goal which Kwadwo Asamoah was only inches from diverting goalwards. Soon after, Boateng played a well-weighted pass into the path of Gyan, who fired a fierce drive that flew not far past the near post.
The game was in full flow now, and Australia had a great chance to take the lead soon after. Ghana, whose young central defensive pairing struggled throughout, allowed Luke Wilkshire the time and space to receive the ball in acres of space in the Ghanaian box. Wilkshire had time to turn and set himself for his shot, but his weak effort was saved by Kingson, while substitute Josh Kennedy made a real hash of the rebound to allow Ghana to clear it to safety.
Wilkshire should have won it for Australia
That chance seemed to give Australia real belief, with the substitutions seeming to have bamboozled the Ghanaian defence as they found themselves all over the place on occasion.
Australia’s defence, criticised so heavily for their performance against Germany, deserve much credit for the way they dealt with the Ghanaian attack after Kewell’s dismissal. Craig Moore and Lucas Neill suffered an onslaught from Gyan, Tagoe, Ayew and Asamoah at times, but held firm throughout.
The last five minutes saw another flurry of activity, as first Chipperfield’s right wing cross was whipped into a dangerous area, with only the quick reactions and bravery of Kingson allowing him to clear to safety. Then a fine Ghanaian free-kick was met by young defender Mensah at the far post, and his powerful header flashed agonisingly wide of the upright.
Even injury time was action packed, as substitute Quincy Owusu-Abeiye fired a cracking shot from distance which was well tipped over by Schwarzer. Soon after, fellow substitute Sulley Muntari fired narrowly over, then at the other end John Pantsil was stretchered off after a clash of heads and Australia almost got on the end of another through ball in the final seconds.
The referee’s final whistle signalled the end of a pulsating final twenty minutes during which either team could have snatched victory. The point leaves Ghana top of the group, but knowing they have to take something from their game against Germany to qualify.
Australia have to beat Serbia by several goals and hope that Germany beat Ghana by a healthy amount, as that is the scenario that gives them a chance to qualify. It may be a long shot, but after their thrashing in the opener, it would be nice to receive a little help from the Germans in completing a famous qualification comeback.
Moment of the Match: Wilkshire’s missed opportunity. Australia, even with their ten men, still had the best chance of the second half. Wilkshire had the time and space to pick his spot, and really should have done better, possibly even scored the winner.
Man of the Match: Craig Moore. The veteran defender was pilloried by the media after being run ragged by Germany’s young stars, but he was rock solid against the Ghanaian attack. Alongside Lucas Neill, they provided great protection for Mark Schwarzer, who was also fantastic when called into action.